About this Recording
8.571368 - JOUBERT, J.: Instant Moment (The) / Temps perdu / Sinfonietta (Henry Herford, English String Orchestra, Boughton)

John Joubert (b. 1927)
The Instant Moment • Temps Perdu • Sinfonietta


Temps Perdu: Variations for String Orchestra, Op. 99 (1984)

As its name implies, this work was inspired by Marcel Proust, whose great sequence of novels A la Recherche du Temps Perdu has recently been re-issued in a refurbished English translation. At about the time when I received the commission to compose a work for the English String Orchestra I had just re-read and been greatly moved by the first novel in the sequence—Swann’s Way—which deals with the narrator’s childhood and adolescence, and I wondered whether the process of memory could be made to work for music as it had obviously done for literature in the hands of Proust. Not that I wanted to re-create Proust in terms of music; if memory was to provide the theme then it must be my memory, not Proust’s, which became the subject matter of my work. As it happens I still have in my possession a considerable body of my own juvenilia, among which I found two short pieces—for string orchestra, appropriately enough—composed during my late teens. The second of these, suitably revised and extended, provided the material for what was to become a set of Variations, each of which sets out to explore some aspect of the memories evoked by the original.

Worked into the score is a theme from Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata in D minor, identified by Proust’s biographer, George D. Painter, as the original of the “little phrase” which in the novel symbolises Swann’s love for Odette. The phrase first appears in its original form in the middle section of the first Variation. Thereafter it is quoted by cellos and basses in the Valse, and finally at the beginning of the Envoi on two solo violins, By a happy accident I had quite unconsciously used it (in inverted form) as part of the new material I added to the theme before I had decided to incorporate it into the Variations—indeed the theme itself is related by interval to it—so in one way or another the “little phrase” of Vinteuil (the composer in the novel who is a composite portrait of various contemporaries of both Proust and Saint-Saëns) could be said to haunt and permeate the whole work.

The work is scored for thirteen solo strings, though it can be played by a larger body if each section is doubled proportionately. It was commissioned by the English String Orchestra (with the aid of funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain and Mitsubishi Ltd.) and received its first performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on 1 October 1984.

Sinfonietta, Op. 38 (1962)

My Sinfonietta was commissioned in 1962 by Orchestra da Camera and first performed in April of that year at a concert given in Birmingham Art Gallery conducted by Brian Priestman. It is scored for a classical chamber ensemble of two oboes, two bassoons, two horns and strings.

There are two movements. The first is a concise symphonic allegro with two main subjects, the first on woodwind accompanied by scalic string patterns, the second a florid melisma first heard on the oboe. The second movement is in two parts: an extended slow introduction leading into a lively tarantella. The introduction—almost a movement in itself—features the woodwind in cadenza-like passages which, after an expressive melody on strings, are repeated in combination. A transition based on the expressive string melody follows, gathering momentum until the tempo of the tarantella is reached. This develops scalic material related to the first movement and brings the work to its conclusion.

The Instant Moment: Song-cycle for Baritone and String Orchestra to words by D.H. Lawrence, Op. 110 (1987)

The five poems which constitute the text of this cycle are all taken from the collection Look! We Have Come Through!, published by D.H. Lawrence in 1917. They are mainly concerned with the development of his deepening relationship with Frieda, the wife of Professor Ernest Weekley of Nottingham University. Lawrence and Frieda had eloped in 1912 and for a time were to live a nomadic life together, mainly on the Continent, until their marriage in 1914. Look! We Have Come Through! was written during this period.

I have selected the poems in order to express in musical terms five highly contrasted reactions to the experience of love. The title of the work is a quotation from Lawrence’s introduction to an American edition of his poems in which he characterises the kind of verse he was writing as “the insurgent naked throb of the instant moment”.

In the declamatory nature of the vocal line and the descriptiveness of the instrumental writing I have attempted to capture in musical terms some of the immediacy of emotion contained in Lawrence’s poetry, while at the same time preserving its very real sense of organic structure. The work was commissioned by the English String Orchestra (with funds provided by West Midlands Arts) and first performed by them with Henry Herford on 21 March 1987, at the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham at a concert to mark my sixtieth birthday. It is dedicated to the late Sir Laurens van der Post.

1. Bei Hennef

Hennef, on the River Sieg in the Rhineland, provides the twilit backdrop to this intimate soliloquy on the bliss of newly realised love. The music attempts to convey the “twittering” of the little river culminating in the avowal “you are the call and I am the answer” to more impassioned phrases in the orchestra. The song ends on a note of uncertainty, however—“Strange, how we suffer in spite of this!”

2. Loggerheads

The faster tempo, minor tonality and histrionic vocal part together convey a defiant assertion of identity separate from, and independent of that of the beloved. The poem seems to prefigure some of Lawrence’s and Frieda’s notorious rows.

3. “And oh—That the man I am might cease to be—”

The title of this poem is a quotation from Tennyson’s monodrama Maud, whose male protagonist Lawrence seems to have identified with to some degree. It describes a mood of black despair and a longing for a state of unconsciousness which is neither sleep nor death, “but heavy, sealing darkness, silence, all immovable”. The music reflecting this employs opaque divisi string chords, and ends with a cry of pain from the soloist which inverts the “avowal” motif from the first song.

4. December Night

An invitation to love with more than a passing nod to Tristan in the rising chromatic phrases of the opening. As the mood becomes more impassioned the “avowal” motif reappears to conclude the song ecstatically. The strings are muted throughout, however, to suggest the enclosed warmth of a firelit room in winter.

5. Moonrise

A visionary poem which sees true love as everlasting, as “a thing beyond the grave”, and the moon itself as something that will “dim sooner than our full consummation here will tarnish or pass away”. The music, ascending from the depths, suggests the rising of the moon whose “lambent beauty shakes towards us”. After a climax and a pause the ascent begins again, this time in a rich D flat major tonality which, rising to a second climax, affirms the immanence of love before subsiding to a serene conclusion.

The origins of this recording go back to a one-day festival of music organised by William Boughton to celebrate my sixtieth birthday. This took place at the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham, on 21 March 1987, and included performances of my piano music (played by John McCabe), my Chamber Music for Brass Quintet (played by Fine Arts Brass), as well as the Sinfonietta and The Instant Moment (played by the English String Orchestra, with Henry Herford as soloist in The Instant Moment). The latter work was especially commissioned for the occasion and was receiving its first performance. The English String Orchestra had already commissioned and premièred Temps Perdu, and it had always been William Boughton’s intention to bring together the two ESO commissions on a single disc. This recording brings that wish to fruition. It also celebrates my close association with the orchestra ever since its foundation in 1980, a closeness reinforced by the inclusion of both my son and daughter within its ranks. It is a matter of particular satisfaction to me that they both took part in the making of this première recording.

John Joubert, 1996

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